Seattle author Richard Chiem launches his dreamy, beautifully written, hippo-inflected, grief-soaked debut novel, King of Joy, in Elliott Bay's basement book cathedral tonight. After his reading, I'll join the author onstage for a nice little chat and Q & A. I promise you all here and now and in front of god that the entire post-reading talkback will last no longer than 20 minutes total. There will also be wine. So come out—it's at 7 pm.
Chiem is one of my favorite writers and readers in Seattle. His low-key and yet somehow extremely intense performances cast a spell on audiences. His meditative sentences pull you close, and then, right when he has you where he wants you, he shows you some weird thing that makes you laugh, tear up a little, or remember that even your tiniest insights and observations are valuable to the world.
In the first few pages, for instance, we see women drunk on champagne and lighting a tree on fire, a glowing black chandelier, an airplane entering and then exiting the reflective mirror of a puddle. These images and scenes fade in and out of the consciousness of Corvus, a young woman mourning the death of her husband, Perry. In a slow fit of grief, she runs away to a cabin in the woods, where she joins a group of indie pornographers and porn stars led by a man named Tim.
Corvus's description of her own headspace parallels the novel's mood, and it also shows off Chiem's knack for writing about trauma while avoiding cliche: "At any part of your life, a slightly out of the ordinary shock is all it takes to unnerve you from your everyday genius, Corvus thinks, the comfort gets sucked out of your routine like air in a vacuum, the core where your courage comes from grows cold and isolated in an instant, not quite useless, not quite present."
One way for Corvus to return to her genius, as Chiem demonstrates throughout the novel, is to focus on the little things. To allow some fantasies to supplant reality when necessary. And, of course, to get a dog.
Onstage at Elliott Bay, I'll ask Chiem about his process for tracking life's little things, about the struggle to live as a novelist in Seattle, about the hippo cameo in the book, and about whether he agrees with my personal taxonomy of fruits.